Billings signage will alert public to potential risk at river mouth in the spring

KAGAWONG – Billings Township Mayor Ian Anderson, along with a local coroner, are working on wording for warning signs to be prominently displayed in the Kagawong River area, as four people have drowned at the mouth of the river in the spring in recent times, including two young men earlier this year. 

Mayor Anderson and coroner Dr. Shelagh McRae have had preliminary discussions on the design and wording to be used on the warning signage. 

“This is in reference to the tragedy that took place May 9 (2020), in which two lives were lost on the Kagawong River. I have had discussions with coroner Dr. McRae on this,” Mayor Anderson told council last week. “We thought back to other incidents, and we both came up with four deaths having taken place there over the years. We agree that the municipality should at least make the public aware of the dangers, particularly at the time of the year (spring) when the water is so cold. Dr. McRae proposed some kind of signage, and she came up with a first draft of the wording for the signage.” 

It was pointed out that four young fishermen have died in the local waters over the years: 1992, 2009 and 2020. “The proposed signage includes a message for everyone to always wear a personal floatation device and that the river is deeper and colder than people might think, especially in the spring,” said Mayor Anderson. 

“In my experience in my former professional life (as a conservation officer with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) we did a lot of training in cold water rescue and exploring the effects of hypothermia. No matter how good a swimmer someone is, it literally takes only a matter of less than a minute in which a person in the freezing water is affected by hypothermia and can be immobilized. The necessity of wearing a life jacket can’t be overstated,” said Mayor Anderson. “With this location and what has happened in the past we agreed it is very important to highlight some of the risks at this location.” 

“This is a great idea,” stated Councillor Brian Barker. “Anything that may help prevent future tragedies is a very good thing.”

Councillors Sharon Alkenbrack and Sharon Jackson also stated that the signage is a good idea, and the former noted that the signage message should be short and to the point. 

“I also agree this should include short effective signage that gets the message across,” said Councillor Michael Hunt. He also suggested, as he has in the past, that a throwing ring with rope attached should be provided in the area.

“This is a really good idea,” stated Mayor Anderson. “And we agreed as council previously as well that this is a very reasonable thing to pursue.”

“We have agreement in principle from council, so I will pursue this further with the coroner, and a new draft for the signage will be on a future council meeting agenda.” 

He told the Recorder after the meeting, “we don’t have the final wording for the signage completed yet. But the purpose of the signage is to highlight the potential risk in that area of the river in the spring time. We have a number of people that frequent the river in the spring for the smelt season, for instance. With the very cold water and water flows there is a potential risk in these waters. This will be brought out in the message on the signs as will the message that wearing a floatation device can save a person’s life.” 

“We are hoping the signage will at least increase awareness and the need to reduce the potential of an incident taking place,” added Mayor Anderson.